Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reinheitsge-what? German Beers Part Eins

I was reminded last night that I rarely talk about German beers. This may seem strange as Germany is a beer country. Almost every town and village in Germany has at least one beer brewery and some have more than one. Altogether Germany has over 1300 breweries more than half of which are in Bavaria, in southern Germany. This means that about a third of all the breweries in the world....are in Germany.

The Germans don't just make and drink any beer. Like old world French wines with their distinct A.O.C rules and regulations, Germans have very rigid and particular ideas about the ingredients, quality and origin of their beer. For Germans, a beer must have been brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot.

Reinheitsgebot: (n) Literally means "purity order." In the 15th century the Bavarian court was concerned about the ingredients that were being used in beer. Brewers used to color their beers with soot or lime and beans and peas were being used in addition to grains as malt. In 1516 Duke William IV passed a law that restricted the brewing of beer and stipulated that only barley (or wheat) hops and water were allowed to be used in beer (they didn't know about the function of yeast yet in 1516.) Imagine what the Germans must think about the corn and rice used by the industrial, mass produced lagers that are pervasive in the US.

The beer styles in Germany vary greatly. They are not just the lagers and light beers that we Americans associate as German. (Sidenote: Many of us Americans associate this lightness as the German beer Heineken - which actually is NOT German, but Dutch; and is a very industrialized beer.) German's make ales and lagers and run the gamut in color from the lightest of light Krystalklar to the darkest of dark Schwarzbier.

Here are some German Styles:

Hefe Weizen: Weizen means wheat, and this beer is typically made with a 50:50 or higher ratio of wheat. The special yeast that is used in Hefe Weizen gives this beer unique flavors of banana and cloves.

Dunkel Weizen: Similar to a Hefe Weizen, Dunkel means "dark." So this is a wheat beer brewed with darker malt versions and a low balancing bitterness. The clove and fruity (banana) characters associated with Hefe Weizen will be present.

Weizenbock: A more powerful Dunkel Weizen (of "bock strength" - see "Bock" below), with a pronounced alcohol sweetness and spiciness, and bold complex malt characters of dark fruits.

Kolsch: Kolsh is a straw colored, soft fruity and sometimes sourish beer. Hop bitterness is very mild, but some dryness does exist. As of 1980, a beer can only be called Kolsch if it is brewed in Cologne.

To be Continued...

Thank you for your beer style descriptions. Go to their website if you would like to learn about more German style beers, or if you would like to learn about specific German beer style brands.

1 comment:

  1. Why does no one comment here? This is such excellent information! I saw the article on you and your mission in a local periodical here in Northern California... the periodical left something to be desired, so I don't even remember the name, but I did remember your article. Very good insight and a wonderful mission. It's about time someone really sink their teeth into this subject, because most beer in this world is actually kind of hilarious.

    I've added you to my favorites list and look forward to future articles from you!